Rediscovering our values

Posted: Sep 14, 2004 12:00 AM

I enjoy and appreciate the steady flow of correspondence I get in response to my columns and media appearances. Periodically, I get a letter that is so poignant and on target that I feel I should share it. Here is such a letter recently received, with a few editing touches:

"Dear Ms. Parker: Recently my 12-year-old daughter has expressed interest in using her hard-earned baby-sitting money to purchase a CD by an artist I was unfamiliar with, Usher. I am so grateful to have read your most informative and disturbing column ... it was extremely eye-opening. I read it together with my daughter and she now understands fully why we won't be purchasing this filth. She had never even heard of the concept of abortion, and we had a good talk on the sorry state of our society. Thank you so much for your words. I have forwarded your column to everyone I know who cares about their children's well-being, in the hopes that those people will continue to spread your word."

The column to which the writer refers is a piece I wrote weeks ago about a rap number, then at the top of the Billboard 100 list, in which rappers Usher and Joe Budden say that if your girlfriend won't abort the baby you have given her you should take matters in your own hands and punch her in the stomach.

If there is any doubt in anyone's mind what parenting is about, this short letter says it all. What more can be asked over and beyond a young mother, with a clear sense of values, keeping a close and watchful eye on her child? And, that the relationship between mother and daughter is such that this 12-year-old girl listens to her mom.

Needless to say, the satisfaction I derive as the source of information for this mom about the "sorry state of our society" is somewhat limited. It causes me to do some soul searching of my own. As I see the unquestionable deterioration of family and traditional values in our society, I do believe we are in a "sorry" state of affairs. However, this certainly does not diminish my sense of the unique greatness of our free country.

Perhaps my concern is that as we enjoy the unprecedented prosperity that our freedom has made possible, we are losing a sense that every benefit has a cost, and that the other side of the coin of increased freedom is increased responsibility.

We seem to be going in the opposite direction. The more we get, the more irresponsible we become. The easier things become, the more we view our bounty as an entitlement rather than as a gift.

Certainly the traditional American family is under siege and the challenges for young parents have never been greater. Never before in the history of this country has there been a lower probability that a child of any race will grow up in a family with a father and mother present. We now approach, as a nation, one out of every three babies being born out of wedlock. Can we imagine a society, which Americans can anticipate, in which a large percentage of its working adults have no memory of growing up in a home with a father and mother?

For families that are intact, the percentage with both parents working outside the home is unprecedented. It seems reasonable to expect that this percentage will continue to grow. So as fathers and mothers go to work every day to meet the economic challenges for their families, the time and energy they have available for giving quality time and attention to their children has got to diminish in some way.

In all likelihood, while these parents are at work, their children will attend one of our nation's public schools, where the only forbidden is to suggest to a child that there are any absolute rights or wrongs in this world. It is far more likely the child will be taught the virtues of not being judgmental, of tolerance, and the absence of any absolutes.

Meanwhile, the miracle of technology provides a major new source of competition for parents for the attention of their children. Every day, children have new channels for getting information. The Internet not only grows and gets faster, but now is available through wireless devices. Hundreds of channels of TV are pumped into homes via cable and satellite. It has never been simpler or cheaper to copy information from the Internet, TV or radio and forward on to others.

The fruits we harvest today from freedom and technology are great. But I believe we need to re-establish a sense of responsibility commensurate with the freedom and power individuals now possess. Parenting means transmitting. Children hear from parents what those parents heard from theirs.

There are sources of truth other than R&D laboratories. Periods in our history when we thought our political and economic apparatus could work independently of religious and moral truths have not been our great moments. This is a time for getting back in touch.